The judge ruled against Charlotte police after officers clashed with protesters in June following George Floyd’s death.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department is accused of misconstruing a local judge’s ruling restricting the use of riot control agents against protestors, leading to a series of social media attacks on the judge.
Mecklenburg County Superior Judge Karen Eady-Williams called CMPD’s claims about the restraining order she issued “inaccurate and inflammatory” in a series of emails recently obtained by The Charlotte Observer under a public records request.
She indicated she’s faced threats and personal attacks online as a result.
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Eady-Williams’ June 19 ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by protesters represented by attorneys from the NC ACLU, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and Emancipate NC.
The suit stemmed from a widely publicized June 2 clash between police officers in riot gear and anti-racism protesters in uptown Charlotte which had been captured on video and live-streamed by Queen City Nerve, an alternative newspaper.
Demonstrators said CMPD officers trapped a group of protesters between two parking garages, and then deployed riot control agents including tear gas and pepper balls on the group.
After that incident, Eady-Williams issued a temporary restraining order restricting police from using similar tactics in the future. Even before the court hearing, Charlotte City Council voted to prohibit police spending on chemical agents.
Police Outraged Over Judge’s Decision
Police groups quickly reacted to Eady-Williams’ decision with their own criticism, saying it went too far.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s Fraternal Order of Police, a police membership organization, expressed outrage over the order, WBTV reported.
“The Temporary Restraining Order conveniently eliminates the action for CMPD to properly protect the property of citizens and businesses,” the Charlotte FOP said in a statement.
“The order limits the department’s ability to deploy riot control agents to disperse crowds assembled during unlawful gatherings,” the posts read. “Many of the restrictions referenced in the order are currently prohibited by CMPD policy.”
“The order does however prevent the department from deploying riot control agents in gatherings that involve protestors that are damaging the property of others,” the social media posts continued.
The actual restraining order did not go that far, however.
Its language restricts the use of tear gas, pepper balls and other munitions unless police or the public “are faced with an imminent threat of physical harm” or if protesters are committing “threatening acts.”
Nowhere is banning the use of riot control agents to protect property mentioned. In fact, the order does not even address protection of property or property damage.
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On June 20, the day after the restraining order was issued, Eady-Williams emailed attorneys on both sides of the lawsuit after seeing the CMPD online accounts of her order. It led to a fiery back-and-forth between Eady-Willliams and Charlotte city lawyers.
“I fully support everyone having the ability to express themselves and their First Amendment rights on the platform of their choice,” she wrote in an email to attorneys on both sides of the case which was obtained by The Observer. “However, the statements expressed should be accurate … and certainly not inflammatory.”
Social Media Turns Ugly
During a June 22 remote hearing addressing the order, Eady-Williams said that CMPD’s interpretation of the order implied that she condoned unlawful gatherings while allowing “members of the public to commit property damage [with] no consequences.”
In a follow-up email, Eady-Williams wrote that CMPD’s mischaracterization of the ruling engendered a flood of angry online comments and threats directed at her.
In fact, several comments on CMPD’s posts included personal and racist attacks against Eady-Williams, who is Black, Cardinal & Pine discovered in reviewing the online comments.
“Those lower intelligent types can’t be allowed in important litigation matters,” wrote Twitter user Shawn007 about Eady-Williams.
“It would be a shame if his address was published,” user Bill Holland posted on Facebook, apparently unaware of the judge’s gender.
“I hope her house is the first one they tear up!!” Anita Terrell opined, characterizing the demonstrators as violent criminals.
Cardinal & Pine also found a flurry of critical comments referring and asking about Eady-Williams’ race. “What’s this Judges Nationality?” Nanette Isenhour asked on Facebook.
“She’s a black female,” Julie Whitson Wilson, a retired CMPD dispatcher, replied.
“Judges first name is Karen, so there is that. Second thing is, she’s a Democrat. Do I need to say what the trifecta is?” said Joseph MacNulty, another Facebook user.
“Today I’m learning of many direct threats against me related to CMPD’s ‘interpretation’ of the order on June 19,” Eady-Wilson wrote in a June 22 email published by The Observer.
Rather than acknowledge either an error or a deliberate attempt to mislead, CMPD doubled down, claiming the order blocked the use of riot control agents to protect property. City Attorney Patrick Baker also weighed in, calling the wording of the judge’s order vague.
“I am not confused about anything that was said and to suggest such is offensive,” Eady-Williams wrote. “A misstatement was made by CMPD, and a clarification is needed by CMPD, not from the court.”
Baker insisted that the order needed to be amended to allow CMPD to use the disputed munitions to protect property.
On June 22, Eady-Williams acceded to Baker’s demand. She amended the five-page court order in the right hand margin with a hand-written note saying the document imposed no limit on the “CMPD’s use of force protocol as it relates to people or property.”
On June 26, Eady-Williams convened an in-person hearing with attorneys from both sides of the lawsuit in which she again raised concerns about how CMPD chose to describe her ruling.
The judge stated, “At no point in that hearing was the issue of property or property damage ever addressed,” WSOC-TV reported.
A subsequent post on CMPD’s Facebook page acknowledged that the judge’s ruling does not prevent officers from using riot-control agents against protesters who are damaging property.
But as of Thursday afternoon, CMPD’s original posts misrepresenting the contents of the restraining order, are also still online.
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